HRC Blog

Montana Supreme Court Rejects Equality Claim, Leaves Door Open for Future Cases

This post comes from HRC Law Fellow Jake Reif:

Same-sex couples seeking the rights and benefits associated with marriage under Montana law were dealt a setback Monday, when the state’s highest court denied relief, citing the overbroad nature of their claim. 

Unlike many challenges to state laws by same-sex couples—including Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging California’s Proposition 8 now before the Supreme Court—this case did not target Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage nor did the couples involved seek the designation of ‘marriage’ for their relationships. Instead, these couples argued that withholding the array of different privileges associated with marriage from same-sex couples violated the state constitution.

This is not, however, the end of the line for the plaintiffs. The court suggested that it may be willing to entertain the case if the couples amend their complaint to challenge specific Montana statutes.

While the court ultimately chose to punt the larger issue, several of the justices would have opted to reach the underlying merits of the case. A concurring justice agreed that the case was too broad, but would have also held that Montana’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would alternatively prevent the plaintiff’s relief. In addition, three justices dissented, finding that the dispute could be resolved and that denying equal benefits to same-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of the Montana Constitution. 

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